08/01/2012 6:51PM

Del Mar: Strong Wind scores front-running win in Graduation Stakes

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Benoit & Associates
Strong Wind, with Kevin Krigger up, pulls away in the stretch to win the $100,000 Graduation Stakes.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Strong Wind won his first stakes and ended a lengthy drought in six-figure stakes for trainer Steve Knapp in Wednesday’s $100,000 Graduation Stakes at Del Mar.

Ridden by Kevin Krigger, his first career stakes win at Del Mar, Strong Wind ($8) led or disputed the pace throughout and pulled away from four rivals in the stretch to win the race for California-breds by 4 1/4 lengths. Just Call Me Al, last to the turn, rallied wide to finish second, followed by Lovemeister, Weewinnin, and Law Dog.

Sent off as the 3-2 favorite, Law Dog stumbled at the start, fought for the lead, but faded through the final quarter-mile. He was beaten 41 1/4 lengths.

Strong Wind ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.14. Trained by Knapp for partners Gino Roncelli and Bill and Sue Tomasic, Strong Wind made his fifth start in the Graduation. Strong Wind beat California-bred maidens by 6 1/4 lengths and was fourth in the Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile Championship at Betfair Hollywood Park on July 14.

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The victory was Knapp’s first stakes win since Christiana’s Heat won the 2009 Irish O’Brien Stakes at Santa Anita. He won two minor $35,000 starter handicaps at Santa Anita in 2010 and earlier this year.

After Wednesday’s race, Knapp said that Strong Wind will be pointed to the $150,000 I’m Smokin Stakes for California-bred 2-year-olds over six furlongs Sept. 3. A colt by Tribal Rule, Strong Wind was purchased for $24,000 at the Barretts October yearling sale in 2011.

Strong Wind has won 2 of 5 starts and $106,360.